This question comes from one of my wonderful Patronage supporters. If you’d like a change to see the inside of the industry in a really interactive way, please come join us!
It happens. You audition friends or watch their work and realize: this isn’t right for this project. It doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful talents, it just means that their skills are better suited for a different film or show. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can still hurt feelings to hear a ‘no’ so you want to be careful how you reject your friends.
In general, when you don’t get a job… you just don’t hear back. You MIGHT hear “they passed” via your agent or manager but more often than not, it’s just crickets. Don’t do that to your friends. They’ll know you went another direction, you have to tell them first. And YOU have to tell your friend; don’t make their agent do it. Reach out — and medium matters. If this is a big opportunity for someone, you need to call. If it’s a small production, text or email are fine.
Start with a compliment. You’re a friend, this shouldn’t be too hard! What about the performance did you enjoy? We loved the way you made us laugh on this line! No one else did that! It was so creative. And mean it.
The next thing you can do is involve the team in the decision; you aren’t operating in a vacuum, nor is this singularly your decision. I absolutely love working with you, but after consulting at length with <the director/producer/whoever>, we had to go in another direction. We, and I, think the world of you and know what a strong talent you are, this just wasn’t the right film. It’s okay. It’s okay to reject your friends. You don’t love them less and that is this industry.
If you do want to work with this person, close with that! I can’t wait to get a chance to work with you; I’d love to develop something with you. Let me know if that’s of any interest! and then go do that!
Be nice, express remorse, find another project. Rejection is a necessary part of this industry — both getting it and giving it — and knowing how to dole it out will make you someone people want to work with again and again.